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2011 Mississippi State Preview – Offense
Mississippi State RB Vick Ballard
Mississippi State RB Vick Ballard
Posted May 12, 2011 2011 Preview - Mississippi State Bulldog Offense

Mississippi State Bulldogs

Preview 2011 - Offense

- 2011 Mississippi State Preview | 2011 Mississippi State Offense
- 2011 Mississippi State Defense | 2011 Mississippi State Depth Chart

What You Need To Know: The offense took the leap forward that everyone was hoping it would. Under head coach Dan Mullen and offensive coordinator Les Koenning, MSU went from 115th in the nation in scoring in 2008, to 72nd in 2009, to 45th in 2010, and went from 113th in total offense in 2008, to 65th in 2009, to 42nd last year. The running game became dominant, rolling for 215 yards per game, and while the passing game wasn’t special, it improved over the last half of the season. The quarterback situation is tremendous with Chris Relf a rising superstar and Tyler Russell a top talent pushing for the job, while the receiving corps is experienced, if not spectacular. Vick Ballard is a scoring machine who leads a deep group of backs, and they’ll get to work behind a strong line that should be terrific at four spots, but has a major issue at left tackle with Derek Sherrod off to the NFL.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Chris Relf
129-220, 1,789 yds, 13 TD, 6 INT
Rushing: Vick Ballard
186 carries, 968 yds, 19 TD
Receiving: Chad Bumphis
44 catches, 634 yds, 5 TD

Star of the offense: Senior QB Chris Relf
Player who has to step up and be a star: Senior OT James Carmon
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore OG Gabe Jackson
Best pro prospect: Jackson
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Relf, 2) RB Vick Ballard, 3) OT Addison Lawrence
Strength of the offense: Quarterback, Running Game
Weakness of the offense: Left Tackle, Passing Game Consistency


State of the Unit: Technically, the starting quarterback job is “wide open.” Head coach Dan Mullen has said as much with three very good options for one of the best quarterback situations the program has had in years, maybe ever. There’s size, experience, mobility, talents, and big names to count on with a versatile trio to play around with. The passing game might have finished 86th in the nation and it might have been seventh in the SEC in efficiency, but there are plenty of reasons for Bulldog fans to be fired up.

Mullen wouldn’t come right out and name Chris Relf the starter coming out of spring, ball, but Relf is the starter coming out of spring ball. The 6-4, 240-pound senior is huge, mobile, and starting to come into his own after a breakout season highlighted by a special game against Michigan completing 18-of-23 passes for 281 yards and three touchdowns with a pick, to go along with a rushing score. He’s not the team’s best passing option, but he completed 59% of his throws for 1,789 yards and 13 touchdowns with six picks while showing off good running ability finishing second on the team with 713 yards and five scores. Far, far more consistent this offseason than last, he did nothing since the Gator Bowl win to slip from the No. 1 spot, but the coaching staff is still pushing. The goal is to improve his decision making ability and improve on his consistency and accuracy, but considering he completed 70% of his throws over the final three games of last year to go along with his mobility, the hope is that he’ll take all his tools, his size, and his experience and become a poor man’s Cam Newton.

While Relf is almost certainly going to be the main man going into the season, sophomore Tyler Russell will get every chance to push for the job, or at the very least be a terrific past of a rotation. Supposedly the team’s top passing option, he completed 58% of his throws for 635 yards and five touchdowns with six interceptions, throwing worse time than Relf, struggling mostly with three picks against LSU and with four of the scoring passes coming in a 13-of-16 day against Memphis in the opener. Expected to be the savior of the Mississippi State program when he signed on two years ago, he might be if he can start to keep the mistakes to a minimum. A pro-style passer with size, a live arm, smarts, and the ability to come up with wins in the clutch (at least at the high school level), he has the best passing tools of any Bulldog QB in a long, long time. He threw 40 touchdowns passes and five interceptions on the way to leading Meridian High to the Mississippi state high school championship in 2008, and the expectations are through the roof. While he’s not the runner that Relf is, he’s mobile enough to get by with 62 rushing yards.

While he didn’t see any time or action last year, redshirt freshman Dylan Favre has the passing skills to get in the mix a bit. The 5-10, 190-pounder doesn’t have the cannon his famous uncle has – or had – but the 2009 Gatorade Mississippi Player of the Year has a big-time arm with a quick release and can put the ball anywhere on the field. He doesn’t have Brett’s height or size, which is the only thing that kept him from being a bigger recruit after destroying most of the state passing records highlighted by a 5,589-yard, 63-touchdown senior year. If he was 6-4 and 225 pounds, he’d be seen as the next big thing.

Watch Out For … Relf to keep Russell on the bench. Mullen might be talking about using his quarterbacks in a rotation and he might say the job is wide open, but Relf has been too good this offseason to take him off the field.
Strength: Size. Favre might not be ideal size-wise, but the 6-4, 240-pound Relf and the 6-5, 225-pound Russell are big, imposing quarterbacks who are tough to bring down. They run well and hang tough in the pocket.
Weakness: Consistency. The MSU passing game threw for over 300 yards against the dregs – Memphis and Alcorn State – and managed to throw for just 33 yards against Florida. Relf became stronger down the stretch, but the passing game still might not be up to the level needed to challenge for the SEC West title.
Outlook: The Bulldogs are loaded here. Relf has the talent, the experience, and the potential to go from being a nice, slightly under-the-radar playmaker to a national star with a little more oomph to the passing game. Russell will see time this year, but this will be his offense starting next year. Favre is a terrific emergency option.
Unit Rating: 8

Running Backs

State of the Unit: Going into last year, the plan was to use several good, promising backs in a rotation to make up for the loss of workhorse Anthony Dixon. Instead, the SEC’s No. 2 and nation’s 16th-best ground game averaged 215 yards per game with 28 scores because of the running of QB Chris Relf, and a steady diet of backs with one taking the job by the horns.

Senior Vick Ballard came to MSU as a good-looking JUCO transfer, tearing off 1,728 yards and 22 scores in 2009 for Mississippi Gulf Coast CC, and he was supposed to be a big part of the offense right away. It took about a month to become the main man, and then he blew up for 119 yards and three touchdowns against Alcorn State and followed it up with 134 yards and three scores against Houston, running the ball just 22 times total in the two games. He finished the year with a team-leading 968 yards and a whopping 19 scores, adding three touchdown runs against Arkansas and Michigan, and he even caught a touchdown pass in the win over Georgia. At 5-11 and 215 pounds, he’s not necessarily a thumper, but he’s physical, extremely quick, and is the perfect fit for what Dan Mullen wants to do with his spread attack.

5-10, 190-pound sophomore LaDarius Perkins was a nice recruit two years ago, and last year he stepped up into a No. 2 back role and carries the ground game with 131 yards and a score against UAB. Slippery, the speed back is a one-cut and fly type of runner who can get through the hole in a hurry, averaging 5.6 yards per carry finishing third on the team with 566 yards and three scores. He can also catch making nine grabs for 247 yards and three scores, with three catches for 140 yards and two touchdowns, including an 81-yard play, in the win over Ole Miss. He can also be used as a kickoff returner.

Senior Robert Elliott was supposed to be the main man for the ground game going into last year, after being derailed by injuries earlier in his career, he never found his niche running just 60 times for 221 yards averaging 3.7 yards per carry. He has 6-0, 210-pound size, plenty of experience, and with 4.6 speed in the 40. Tremendous at the end of the 2009 season, he only carried the ball more than ten times twice last year and is clearly the third man in the pecking order.

Watch Out For … Even more Perkins. Ballard is the main man for the ground game, but Perkins is too quick and too flashy to not get the ball in his hands on a regular basis.
Strength: Ballard and a nice rotation. Perkins isn’t a workhorse, but he could take on the load for a game or two if needed, and Elliott has shown enough in the pass to be more of a factor than he was last year. And then there’s Ballard, who is a touchdown star and has the ability and potential to be a 250-carry back.
Weakness: Receiving. It’s not that the backs can’t catch, it’s that they aren’t used enough in the passing game. There’s no excuse for Perkins to only have nine catches considering he’s a flash of lightning when he gets the ball in space. That should change.
Outlook: The MSU ground game relies on the quarterback to crank out yards on a regular basis, with Chris Relf leading the team in attempts, but there’s a terrific trio of backs to carry more of the load. Ballard is a terrific runner who has a knack for getting to the goal line, and Perkins and Elliott are good, solid SEC backs who have to be accounted for. There might not be a true thumper in the bunch, but the 240-pound Relf takes care of the short-yardage plays.
Unit Rating: 8


State of the Unit: It’s a bit of a stretch to say the Mississippi State receivers are along for the ride in an offense that relies so heavily on the run, but they’re not going to put up huge numbers. They have to take advantage of their chances, keep the chains moving, and block. There won’t be any All-SEC stars considering the numbers simply won’t be there, but there are plenty of experienced playmakers with all the top targets back. As QB Chris Relf continues to improve, the receivers should do more.

5-10, 200-pound junior Chad Bumphis doesn’t have the look or the feel of a No. 1 receiver, but he’s strong, tough, and can fly. He led the team with 44 catches for 634 yards and five touchdowns, averaging 14.4 yards per carry, and while his lone blowup game – nine catches for 133 yards and two scores – came against Alcorn State, he was steady throughout the year before being knocked out late in the year, missing the Gator Bowl, with a broken collarbone. After spring ball the concern is an injured ankle which he said was broken in a tweet, but has been called a sprain. If he’s right, he’s not only the team’s top receiver, but he’s also a running option with 131 yards averaging 6.9 yards per carry last season.

Junior Arceto Clark didn’t exactly come from out of nowhere, but the 5-10, 180-pounder finished second on the team with 25 catches for 362 yards and three scores after starting out his career as a special teamer. He’s not huge, but he has 4.5 speed and can make things happen as a short-to-midrange target. Smart and consistent, he caught two passes or more in every game but two, but didn’t catch more than three in any game. He’ll be backed up by sophomore Michael Carr, a promising 6-1, 195-pounder who caught four passes for 74 yards with a 31-yard score against Michigan. A star recruit, he has decent size and the athleticism to be used as a return man and a runner, carrying the ball four times for 42 yards.

At 6-2 and 205 pounds, true junior Chris Smith has great size to go along with good speed and the ability to be a mismatch nightmare. He finished third on the team with 24 catches for 264 yards and a score, but he didn’t come up with anything deep with the only touchdown coming on a short play against Ole Miss. Hanging on to the ball has been a problem in the past, but he has the ability to become a more dangerous playmaker with more deep balls coming his way. Backing him up is sophomore Ricco Sanders, an exciting 5-11, 190-pounder who was supposed to play a big role right away a few years ago, but struggles to get eligible. “The Real Deal” has homerun hitting ability, but he only caught two passes for 23 yards and a score in the bowl win against Michigan. Now he’ll be a bigger part of the rotation.

5-11, 175-pound junior Brandon Heavens has 4.5 wheels and fluid athleticism, and he showed off a little bit of his skills with 22 catches for 316 yards and two scores, averaging 14.4 yards per play. Most of his work came in the opener with five catches for 112 yards and two scores, and he didn’t get into the end zone again. He’ll backup Bumphis, but the one-time great recruit for the program has the talent to do far more.

Senior Marcus Green doesn’t look like a tight end at a fullback-like 6-1 and 240 pounds, but he’s a good blocker and moves well. The one-time star running back recruit caught 27 passes for 306 yards and three touchdowns two years ago, but he only made three grabs for 36 yards before suffering a knee injury knocking him out for the final ten games of the year. He’s expected to be back to normal to start the season and he should be more than just a safety valve. If the knee isn’t right, then 6-3, 250-pound senior Kendrick Cook will step in and play a bigger role after only catching one pass for 12 yards. He looks the part and is a nice blocker with good athleticism, but he’ll mostly be used for the ground game.

Watch Out For … Concerns over Bumphis’s health. The offense got by without its star receiver in the Gator Bowl, but now he has had a broken clavicle and a scary ankle injury in just a few months, and it’ll be a constant worry over whether or not he’ll be able to stay in one piece.
Strength: Experience. Assuming Bumphis is okay, he, Clark, Heavens, and Smith for a very good, very sound corps that might be light on the wow factor, but will know what it’s doing. As the quarterback play improves, this group will benefit and should come up with some strong numbers.
Weakness: Big plays. The offense is geared around the running game, and while the passing game averaged a terrific 14.4 yards per play, there weren’t very many bombs. The biggest pass play of the year came by a running back, with LaDarius Perkins ripping off an 81-yarder. This is a midrange receiving corps.
Outlook: The coaching staff has made a point over the last few years of getting more from the receivers with the desire to crank out bigger plays on a regular basis. The staff has also made a concerted effort to create a deep, talented corps, and this is it. There’s depth, speed, and options, and while Bumphis is a mediocre No. 1 by SEC standards, he’s good enough to be the main man for a promising group.
Unit Rating: 7

Offensive Line

State of the Unit: The line was a major problem for several years and was one of the reasons MSU football was so inconsistent. While it wasn’t quite the rock last season it was hoped to be, it was vastly improved and started to come together over the final four games once the right combination was found. This is a good, tough, experienced line, but it’ll be missing its anchor and star, now-Green Bay Packer Derek Sherrod.

Sherrod went from being a promising prospect with the right size and good upside to a first rounder after a dominant season at left tackle. Now it’ll take a combination of two good prospects to fill the void with senior James Carmon moving over from the defensive line and redshirt freshman Blaine Clausell looking to get his feet wet. The 6-7, 330-pound Carmon is a massive blocker who got three starts last year at defensive tackle making eight stops before moving over to the offensive side in Gator Bowl practices. The former JUCO transfer is raw, but he’s physical and can bury his man once he gets a lock on. The 6-7, 295-pound Clausell is the better athlete and has the potential to be a nice pass blocker, but he’s not exactly ready out of the box, either.

Helping solidify the left side will be sophomore Gabe Jackson, a nice-looking 6-4, 310-pounder who stepped up and started every game. A strong, pounding run blocker, he has good size, excellent strength, and decent enough athleticism to make things happen on the move. A great recruit for the program two years ago, he’s going to be a key anchor for the ground game for the next three seasons and should grow into an all-star.

The center situation should be interesting. J.C. Brignone was the leader and the glue for the line with 33 starts under his belt, and now senior Quentin Saulsberry will get his shot after starting two times in the middle when he wasn’t spending most of his year at right guard. The 6-2, 300-pounder is built for the position with good size and the right frame, and he has the experience to handle the work. He started out his career at tackle, but the former high school defensive tackle is far better suited for the inside. There’s a chance he could move back to guard if 6-4, 285-pound redshirt freshman Dillon Day turns into a factor. The high school offensive tackle doesn’t have great size or elite skills, but he quickly bulked up 25 pounds and will get a look in the middle.

With Saulsberry moving over, 6-3, 305-pound junior Tobias Smith will get the start at right guard after serving last year as a key backup and a starter against Florida. He would’ve been a bigger part of the equation earlier in his career if he hadn’t suffered an ankle injury. He has all the measurables except for the raw bulk, but he’d light up an NFL Combine-like workout. 6-8, 310-pound redshirt freshman Damien Richardson is way too tall for a guard, but he’s a promising young blocker who moves well and is strong enough to handle the work. A tremendous recruit last year, he could move outside to tackle with the frame to be a strong pass protector.

6-4, 290-pound senior Addison Lawrence started every game at right tackle and has 25 straight starts under his belt. Originally a tight end prospect, he has become a whale of a run blocker after bulking up to fill out his frame. He’ll never be a huge, NFL-style blocker, but he has the drive and the power to barrel over defenders. Athletic, smart, and nasty, he’s going to be the main man the offense runs behind.

Watch Out For … Saulsberry in the middle. He was a strong guard who did a great job of moving the pile, and now he has to prove he can be the same type of leader on the line calls that Brignone was. He will.
Strength: The right side. The pass protection might not be elite, but the combination of Lawrence and Smith should be dominant at time for the ground game. The left side might not be bad with Jackson an emerging star, but …
Weakness: Left tackle. There might not be a bigger drop-off at any one position in the entire SEC. Sherrod was the star of a strong line, and Carmon is way, way too raw to be a quick fill in. He might be good in time, but he didn’t look the part in spring ball. Clausell is the future, but he needs to add about 15 pounds of good weight and he needs as much time and seasoning as Carmon.
Outlook: Losing Sherrod is huge, but it’s not a killer with so much experience returning. Left tackle will be ugly at times, but the other four spots should be rock solid for a group that will dominate at times on the ground. This won’t be the deepest group around, at least not early on, and the pass protection will be spotty, but the line will be fine as long as the left tackle situation isn’t a disaster.
Unit Rating: 7

- 2011 Mississippi State Preview | 2011 Mississippi State Offense
- 2011 Mississippi State Defense | 2011 Mississippi State Depth Chart